Under Construction


07 Nov 2022

COP27 is a ‘Deliver what you promised or Bust’ moment

Energy Transition, Green Growth
Dr Roland Nkwain Ngam
COP 27 in Africa

As the world gathers in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt for COP27, there are fears that what we are going to witness there is in fact a roll back of some of the gains obtained in previous conferences rather than a significant set of policies that get the world closer to limiting global warming around 1.5 degrees. 

In Glasgow, the Conference of the Parties agreed that the surest way to avert a sharp rise in extreme weather events was by limiting the rise in global temperatures around 1.5 degrees. This entailed halving global CO2 emissions by 2030 and all parties were expected to report Nationally Determined Contributions to help achieve this priority.

Recently, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said that the world currently has no credible plan to achieve that goal. In the Emissions Gap Report 2022: The Closing Window, UNEP writes that “as growing climate change impacts are experienced across the globe, the message that greenhouse gas emissions must fall is unambiguous. Yet … the international community is falling far short of the Paris goals, with no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place.”

Coming on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s expectations are riding high for a transformative Conference of the Parties. Floods in Pakistan, droughts in Europe and the Horn of Africa, famine in Madagascar, and a massive expansion of cattle ranches in the Amazon have heightened demands for radical cuts in CO2 emissions. People expect COP to deliver with concrete solutions, otherwise the event may garner the reputation of just another pointless talk shop where people gather to do some performative activism and blah blah blah.

Who will be attending COP27?

So COP27 President, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has his work cut out for him.

Firstly, Shoukry needs to bring all or most of the heads of the highly industrialised nations to Egypt as a symbol of their commitment to the Conference of the Parties. The latest UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said a couple of weeks ago that he was skipping the event to attend to domestic priorities, before making a U-turn after some sharp criticism from the head of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer.

The news that US President Joe Biden and newly-elected President of Brazil Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva are attending the event is a very important development.

Getting world leaders to Sharm El-Sheik is the easy part. Actually making some important decisions is going to be a formidable challenge – and that is Sameh Shoukry’s second priority.

What is on the COP27 agenda?

For starters, the conference takes place within an energy crisis caused by four key challenges, viz:1) runaway inflation within the post-Covid recovery; 2) the Russian invasion of Ukraine; 3) searing heat; and 3) a stuttering post-BREXIT United Kingdom.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in particular has triggered a scramble for oil and gas that has already driven over half a trillion dollars into Africa for a series of projects (the Sangomar gas fields in Senegal, ENI-Algeria, the Trans-Saharan Pipeline, the Uganda-Tanzania pipeline, etc).

Even South African coal exporters order books are full with coal shipments leaving daily for China, India and Europe. The global fossil capitalism hegemony looks stronger than it has ever been and oil companies are reporting unprecedented profits.

The belligerent rhetoric between the USA and China does not augur well for COP27. Xi Jinping has just won an unprecedented third term at the head of the Chinese Communist Party – which certainly translates to a third term as president of China – and experts believe that this development is in fact approval for China to develop a more belligerent foreign policy, to seize Taiwan for example. If the world’s two richest nations cannot talk to each other, they certainly are not going to work together to reduce CO2 emissions, starting with solid commitments in Sharm El-Sheik.

What does Africa need?

Closer to home, African leaders who claim to have been shunned and even bullied at previous COPs suddenly have the upper hand. Europe needs at least 155 billion cubic feet of gas to replace what it used to import from Russia and Africa wants to leverage that situation.

The emboldened energy ministers of Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Senegal and even African Uunion President Macky Sall have already said that Africa must be left to use all resources at its disposal to develop. Translation: let us burn our coal and gas in peace.

COP27 President Sameh Shoukry must find a way to ensure that the scramble for oil and gas does not cause nations to tear up their NDC plans.

Secondly, the countries that contribute very little to global heating but suffer some of the biggest impacts through extreme weather events like drought, floods, tropical cyclones, etc. want loss and damage for the destructive impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided either by mitigation or adaptation. Developing nations’ efforts to get loss and damage adopted officially at COP were thwarted in Glasgow and this time around they are not going to take no for an answer.

Green technologies must be emphasised

Africa requires at least $250 billion annually to move to greener technologies and adapt to the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, it gets only a small fraction of this amount, and most of it comes from within the continent. This is hardly fair. President Shoukry needs to get the highly industrialised nations to pay their fair share.

Thirdly, there must be a clearer plan to save our rainforests. In Glasgow, some important decisions were made to protect the world’s rainforests and peatlands but very little has been done since to translate those commitments into clear action.

Jair Bolsonaro who oversaw the clearing of vast tracts of amazon rainforest the size of Belgium is gone, but the world needs a plan to save what remains of our rainforests. The countries that host the Congo Basin and the Amazon must be supported in their conservation efforts.

Greenwashing creeping into proceedings

Finally, something must be done regarding the corporate takeover of COP by business interests. COP is a special event and it makes no sense that corporate sponsors were allowed to get a foothold.

The lineup of corporate sponsors looking to greenwash their way into hearts and minds keeps getting longer. Somehow, COP seems to be attracting the very biggest corporate producers of plastic bottles. Unilever last year, and now for COP27, Coca Cola.

Coca cola has already taken over prominent positions in Sharm El-Sheik to tell the world how environmentally responsible it is. This greenwashing needs to be reigned in quickly.


This blog is authored by Dr Roland Nkwain Ngam, programme manager – climate justice & socio-ecological transformation at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The article is originally published on ESI Africa

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